The Sad Tale of the Unfinished Pandemic Puzzle

The “Cliff’s” of Moher

I consider myself a shopping polyglot. I speak the international language of dollar stores. Poundland, Flying Tiger, Eurogiant. Wherever I travel, I hit the dollar store for the wall of gummy bears in varieties not found in the States, or a foam St. Patrick mitre, or some other unique find. A few years ago, I stopped in at one of my favorite Everything 2 Euro stores on North Earl Street in Dublin, where I thought I could pick up a few picture frames for an odd Euro-sized print. As I suspected, they had what I wanted and in my choice of black or white.

As I breezed down the aisles, scanning the shelves for something else I might need someday, I stumbled upon a few puzzles created from photos of famous Irish landmarks. I immediately recognized the inherent gifting potential of the items since I’m always on the lookout for cheap souvenirs. I grabbed puzzles depicting Trinity College and the famed Cliffs of Moher, and proceeded to the checkout imbued with a sense of accomplishment only a dollar store haul can inspire.

When the pandemic hit in March, I resisted the urge to join the throngs of puzzle makers who flooded Facebook with pictures of their completed projects. But a few weeks later, when I thought I was bored, I broke down and pulled the good old, still sealed and never gifted Cliffs of Moher five hundred piece puzzle, off the bookshelf in the den. I wondered why I hadn’t completed the puzzle before now and was thrilled that I had something on hand to keep me busy for the next few weeks.

I should have known straight away that the puzzle would be a problem. First off, the caption, in bold print on each side and across the picture on the top of the box, shamelessly touted the “Cliff’s of Moher.” I knew for a fact no one named Cliff owns the “of Moher.” At the time, I thought the error comical. I never imagined that this glaring mistake foreshadowed more dire quality issues.

Knowing that we wouldn’t be entertaining visitors for a while, I set up the card table in the corner of the living room. I welcomed the opportunity to stop and, in passing, secure a piece or two in place. With all of the free time at hand and easy and ready access, I assumed that this puzzle would be the first of many I could expect to complete during the lockdown and beyond.

I approach any puzzle project with excitement and trepidation. It’s a long-term commitment under normal circumstances, yet I never imagined the challenge ahead. When I removed the edge pieces from the box, I immediately noticed that, even the pieces that should be the easiest to slip into place, the frame, defied a smooth loop to socket connection. Without a bright light directed on the pieces, I struggled to match subtly nuanced tones of blue, green, tan, and blackish. I forced pieces into place, moved them around, and walked away.

In time, I realized that this puzzle was nearly impossible. Now firmly in the grip of hyperbole, I grew to hate the picture, the color of the ocean, the ruggedness of the cliffs, and anything to do with Ireland, in general. I questioned my own cognitive abilities. Did I have Alzheimer’s? Have I developed a rare form of late life color blindness? Maybe I vacuumed up a piece or two. Could it possibly be just a bad puzzle? Is that even possible?

Now, six months later, the puzzle, barely half finished, taunts me from its corner hiding place. Most nights between dinner and an evening of mindless Britbox or Family Feud, I sit down at the card table, rearrange the pieces, become frustrated, and walk away.

Last evening, my husband, Tim, noticing my confusion and angst, told me to “throw the damn thing away!” but I never leave things undone. I read the draggy, painful book cover to cover. I can’t go to bed without making sure the sink is clear of dishes. I curse my compulsive determination to complete these tedious tasks, but this one has taken me to the brink. Tim might be right. I picture myself folding the pieces into themselves, piling them back into the box, and depositing the whole lot into the trash bin. Unfortunately, I have a vivid imagination and zero resolve.

I assume, now six months into the chore, I will press on. I even managed to set six pieces last night, under the glare of a repositioned floor lamp and a handheld halogen flashlight. In my latest tack, I examined each piece for subtlety and shading, and organized each color into its own pile. I am working on a smaller scale now, managing tiny segments and then gingerly moving them into position. I feel a small amount of gratification but I can’t get past the fact that, in all this time, I’ve only come this far.

As the pandemic shows no real signs of abating, I think I’ll give myself a break. What’s the rush? I’m not going anywhere and neither is the puzzle. And for now, a lousy chopped up rendition of the Cliffs of Moher is sadly about as close as I’ll get to Ireland, or anywhere. I’m forced to make peace with the pieces of the puzzle as I study a fuzzy picture of a beautiful Irish landscape. In any case, I do have a deadline. I’ll need the space occupied by the card table for the Christmas tree, but I hope it doesn’t come to that. Sadly, it’s not looking too good for me, or the Cliff’s.

For my sanity, I think I will gift the Trinity College puzzle, after all.

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